Hometown of the Ancestors of the Holy Cross Society
The town is situated at the foot of the northern slopes of the Nebrodi Mountains, on a hill in a panoramic position over the Thyrrhenian Sea, with the Aeolian islands in the distance, and is famous for the production of quality ceramics, that are sold to visitors in the many shops along the streets of the center. The town itself is a homage to the stefanense ceramic with its panels in the squares, house street numbers, the signs and floors of the shops.
Altitude: 70 m a.s.l
Population: about 5,000 inhabitants — Zip/postal code: 98077 — Phone Area Code: 0921
HISTORY: The town originated around the Benedictine monastery of Santa Croce di Santo Stefano in Val Demone, established in the Norman period (11th century AD), and took at that time the name of Santo Stefano di Mistretta (Mistretta being at the time the nearest important center). Situated in an area rich in clay pits, with a tradition probably going much backwards, in the 15th century the center developed the manufacture of ceramics, bricks and tiles.
The present town rose after a disastrous landslide on 6 june 1682, that destroyed the village of Santo Stefano di Mistretta, whose inhabitants moved then to a safer position. The reconstruction was planned by Giuseppe Lanza Barresi, an enlightened aristocrat and great humanitarian figure, who had the titles of Alcantara knight, Duke of Camastra and Prince of Santo Stefano. In his honor the name was changed to Santo Stefano di Camastra. The Duke also founded and supported the Collegio di Maria, an educational institution for poor girls, an orphanage and the Convento dei Frati Minori.
The plan of the new town, a diamond inscribed within a square, was inspired by both Versailles and Villa Giulia in Palermo, with wide streets sided by palm trees and green areas. The square is oriented to the cardinal points, its axes are the diagonals of the diamond inside, then tracing all connections the lines become streets, the junctions become square, according to the models of ideal urban schemes typical of the Renaissance. Though since the late 18th century the original borders were not enough to contain the increased population, it is still possible to see the original design, with sides 200 mt long, enough to host an ideal population of 2,000 people.
WHAT TO SEE
Museo Civico delle Ceramiche in Palazzo Sergio, once belonging to the Duke of Camastra, still with the original maiolica floors.
The 17th-century parish church of San Nicola di Bari, with has a fine Renaissance portal, recovered from an earlier building; in the baroque interior there are fine 18th-century stucco decorations, a marble statue of the Madonna delle Grazie of the Cagini school and two fine canvases by painter Giuseppe Patania (1780/1852) from Palermo.
Outside the town the Cimitero Vecchio with tombs from 1878 to 1880, beautifully decorated with maiolica work.
And no trip would be complete without and trip to Letto Santo.